THE MODERATOR: Seems like just yesterday but it was four weeks ago when we first met with Coach Franklin and Coach Petersen on Selection Sunday. It’s gone pretty fast and at the Fiesta Bowl we’ve really enjoyed adopting these two teams, coaches, getting to know them and calling them our own.
It’s kind of ironic in our 47th meeting this is the first time in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl that we’ll have Pac-12 team facing a Big Ten team. So it’s another reason why we’re excited about this matchup. These teams are two of the best nationally in all three phases of the game.
So whether you’re media or at home, don’t leave early when a punt happens and make sure you’re back in time when there’s a kickoff because you might miss some excitement.
Penn State, No. 7 scoring offense; Washington, No. 6 scoring defense. This is one of only two bowl games with two of the nation’s top seven scoring defenses — Penn State is number seven.
Washington has the number one ranked rushing defense. Saquon Barkley, second with 179.5 all-purpose yards per game. And the quarterbacks — Jake Browning, third in the nation in passing accuracy; Trace McSorley is 14th. Those are some of the reasons we’re excited about this matchup.
But one more. On average, these two teams offensively combined for more than 865 yards of total offense and more than 78 points per game. But on defense, their combined average is 15 points per game allowed and only 303 offensive yards.
Coach Petersen, an opening statement.
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think this time has gone fast. Seems like it was yesterday we were just talking about coming here. And now a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation and we’re excited to play.
Tremendous respect for Penn State obviously. We have a saying about stats. I won’t say it here but I think that these stats say a lot about Penn State. When you get this deep into a season, end of a season that’s why they’ve done so well. It’s not just any one phase, it’s all phases that they show up in. And we’ll have to play our best ball to compete well with these guys.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Obviously really excited to be here. We’ve had a great week from a preparation standpoint. PlayStation Fiesta Bowl has been first class in every way possible and our guys have really enjoyed it. I’ve been very impressed with our players and staff. We talk all the time about bowl games and about being present and enjoy the time that they have doing the different types of things like Topgolf and things like that.
But when it’s time to meet and practice and work hard they have to be able to be mature enough to flip the switch back and forth. And our guys seem to handle it pretty well.
I think part of it is the motivation of playing a great team like the University of Washington. Our staff has tremendous respect for Coach Petersen’s staff. We were able to have a function with them the other night. It was great to interact with those guys and have some fun.
But I’ve known Coach Petersen now for several years and obviously followed his career and we have some mutual friends. So got tremendous respect for him and what he’s been able to do in his career. Got tremendous respect for the University of Washington.
And just like coach, looking at the statistics, they tell a story, but the most important thing is the film. And watching the film is exciting in some ways and challenging in a lot of other ways just watching a really good opponent on the tape compete week in, week out.
So our guys are motivated and excited, I think it’s going to be a great game. And we look forward to the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. James, what can you draw, what can the team draw for motivating from last year’s Rose Bowl? And also can you describe what this senior class has meant to your program in the fact that they’ve been to four straight bowls and committed to you at a time when they didn’t know whether they’d be playing even in one?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I guess the first thing I would say is we did learn from last year’s experience. I think playing in these type of games on these type of stages, you learn and you grow.
I don’t think last year’s game will have a significant impact on us, but we looked at it even from an administrative standpoint — what are some of the things that we could do traveling across the country to get adjusted and get prepared for this type of game? What did we learn from last year’s game? What are some of the things we could have done differently from a planning and from a preparation standpoint to put our players in the best position to be successful?
So, yeah, I think there’s some lessons that were learned there. I think obviously when you’re playing these Pac-10 style offenses, you better keep playing for four quarters.
And you better have a finisher’s mentality, because I think obviously University of Washington can put up big points and they’ve got explosive players and they’ve got a veteran quarterback. They’ve got all the ingredients that you would say is necessary to be successful at the highest level. So I think we learned a lot. We made some slight modifications from last year.
But I think the seniors, we kind went through our deal yesterday at practice where those guys get carried off the field which is one of our traditions we do. At our senior banquet had an opportunity to talk about those guys.
I don’t think it’s something that you can really kind of put into words and describe the impact that last year’s seniors had, the impact this year’s seniors had. They committed to Penn State at a time that it probably wasn’t the sexy thing to do.
And I think those guys came in with a real big chip on their shoulder that they wanted to be the senior class that really put Penn State back on the map.
And I think they’ve accomplished a lot of that. But I also know, watching some of the highlights from that Rose Bowl game last year, when you’re not successful that last game, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a lot of hurt feelings.
And as Coach Petersen will tell you, I think he will, there’s only a handful of teams that are truly happy at the end of the season and really one.
And I think there’s a lot of positives to ending the season on a positive note with a win in a bowl game to send those seniors out the right way and then also just some confidence and good mojo going into the following season.
But I think our seniors — I don’t know if you can put a value on what they have done for our university and for our community and specifically for me and our staff. Those guys have been culture drivers is what we would describe them as, guys that are reinforcing all the messages in the locker room and in the community that need to be reinforced.
Q. Coach Petersen, I was wondering your career took you at one point to the East Coast and Pitt, how that happened and what you learned from that experience?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I was just finished playing at UC Davis, was coaching there a little bit. And a guy by the name of Paul Hackett was the head coach out there that happened to be a UC Davis guy.
I didn’t think I was going to be a coach, even though I was coaching at Davis. My dad was a coach and that was the one thing I knew that I was definitely not going to do in life was be a coach.
After coaching for a while I kind of made a decision if I’m going to do this I really need to leave, because Davis to me was the greatest place to be, and all those coaches stayed there forever, which was awesome and appealing. But I really felt if I needed to do this I needed to go.
And Coach Hackett gave me an opportunity to get out and see some other things and it was a tremendous learning experience. I mean, that’s what I can say about all the stops along my way. I probably learned as much in that year, that short time I was there, just in terms of a lot of different things.
So it was awesome. And I really appreciated my time there and grew tremendously as a coach and a person just being back there for a short time.
Q. Coach Petersen, your team has never been to the Fiesta Bowl, but you’ve had a couple of memorable experiences here. Did you relate any of those to your team when you were preparing for this game?
CHRIS PETERSEN: No, they don’t care about that at all (laughter). They care about playing PlayStation and practicing hard and what’s going on here and now.
And we try to take anything that we have learned in the past. A lot like Coach Franklin here, it’s things we think have worked for us, whether it’s here or other places, and you’re always trying to tweak your process and give your guys the best chance to perform well.
But we haven’t brought up any of that stuff. It’s a completely different time and teams and all those type of things.
Q. When you have two teams that are so similar in pretty much all three phases of the game as far as a production standpoint, what are the keys to winning when you — do you just try to beat them in the same thing that you’re good at, or is it more of there are certain things you have to do well to win?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I guess what I would say is whenever you’re studying film and statistics and things like that on your opponent, obviously you’re trying to figure out what their strengths are and come up with a game plan to try to minimize those strengths as much as you possibly can. And then you’re looking for weaknesses, and how can you take advantage of some of those weaknesses.
But I think your point is a good one, when you watch Washington on film, statistically as well as what you see on film, they play really good football, kind of across the board — defensively, offensively, special teams. You don’t see a team that is dominant in one area and lacking in another.
They’re really pretty much good across the board. So I think at the end of the day, for us, in these types of games, it’s probably always like this, but in these types of games even more so, it’s going to come down to fundamentals. It’s going to come down to blocking, tackling, protecting the football, not giving up big plays on defense, trying to create a few of them on offense, momentum-type plays.
And that’s typically the case is playing good, sound football, not doing the things that are going to beat you. And those things have a tendency to show up in bowl games because you haven’t played for a couple of weeks. Special teams are really important and ball security is really important.
And I know our players and coaches have tremendous respect for Washington for what we’ve seen and what we’ve game planned. And at the end of the day it’s going to come down to the team that plays the hardest and plays the smartest and finds a way to finish.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Ditto. (Laughter). That’s it. He said it.
JAMES FRANKLIN: I will say one last thing, though, is one of the things I think that’s interesting about this game is one of the things I’ve seen across the country now is with some of these bowl games is you have teams that had certain expectations and then they get to the bowl game and maybe one team is really excited about playing in that game and the other team maybe isn’t.
And I think although both of our programs have been a part of national championship discussions over the last couple of years and they were in the playoffs, I do feel like both teams are really excited about this opportunity and playing in this game.
This is a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous game. So I think you’ve got two teams that are playing really well that both were a part of these kinds of conversations and are both highly motivated to play in this game. So I think it’s a great opportunity for football fans across the country, and I think it’s a great opportunity for both of our organizations.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Ditto.
Q. Coach Petersen, what is it that you see in your counterpart that makes him successful?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, I think Coach Franklin covered it. I think it’s when you’re going to play a team in this type of game, you’re going to get a really good opponent. And it’s not going to be any one thing, it’s going to be everything. It’s going to be offense, defense and special teams.
They’ve got elite returners. Their defense is like — I think the thing that’s interesting about their defense is they’ve got those star power names on offense, you know the offensive guys always sell the tickets. But you watch them play as a defense and there’s not any one guy that has this huge name out there because they’re all making tackles. And that’s what I think like a good defense does. It’s not any one or two guys that keeps showing up.
It’s like they’re all getting a piece of this thing, and I think that’s one of the things that really makes a defense special, and I think they’ve got that.
And obviously you guys know about the offense. But I think that’s what it is. It’s balance across the board and balance in a really good way.
JAMES FRANKLIN: I would say the same thing. The things that probably jump out to us that keep me up at night a little bit is their punt returner. Obviously the amount of big plays, the amount of success that he’s had, is concerning.
Their running back is probably as explosive as a running back that we’ve seen this year. They’ve got a veteran quarterback who throws for a really high percentage, doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes.
And then defensively, I think it’s obviously their interior defensive tackles. You’ve got 6’5″, 340 pounds, and 6’3″, 320 pounds, and they play like it. And I think they do a really good job of complementing those two interior D tackles with what they do on their perimeter with their secondary. They do a great job of defeating blocks and fitting runs and playing what we call trap coverage where they’ll trigger the corners and things like that, make it really difficult.
So now you have a challenge running the ball inside on them, and then the perimeter game, because of what they do in the secondary, causes challenges there.
Just like Coach Petersen said, a very balanced team that does a lot of things very well. You don’t have this type of success that they’ve had with just relying on one area. And offense, defense and special teams will all be challenges for us.
And I do think our guys have done a pretty good job this year of us being very honest with our players and say, look, here’s some of the challenges, and we need to make sure that at the end of the game the stuff that we’ve identified as being issues in the game, we’re not talking about it after the game, saying it got us.
So it’s going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. But I know our guys are excited about the opportunity and should be fun for everybody.
Q. James, you referenced the Washington defense, but wonder if you could specifically talk about the disruptive nature of Vita Vea and what he presents as a challenge to your attack?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I saw him the other night and had a conversation with him about, you know, probably makes sense for him just to declare to the NFL now (laughter). And he’s a tremendous player, tremendous player. You talk about stuff that you can’t coach — 6’5″, 340 pounds.
CHRIS PETERSEN: That’s all coaching. (Laughter).
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, yeah. 6’5″, 340 pounds, you can’t move him. You’re trying to get double teams and be able to get push up to the second level like everybody is.
And what happens is either he’s able to make the play at the line of scrimmage by really creating a stalemate and ditching the guy at the last second and making a tackle, or the other thing that’s so advantageous of having guys like that inside is it puts the linebackers in a great situation because those defensive linemen are not getting pushed into their face, or they’re never able to come off on the linebacker at the next level.
So it allows the linebackers to be free hitters, and everybody on offense is trying to create space and everybody on defense is trying to take space away. And they’ve done a great job of that.
But I think the game of football on defense, in my opinion, kind of starts as built like a baseball team: You want to be strong through the middle — catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second base, center field. You look at them, that’s kind of how they are, with those two D tackles and their linebackers, very, very challenging.
And I think the thing that’s been unique to me is what they’ve been able to do at the nickel position. Different body types. Different styles the last couple of years but those guys have been really, really productive for them.
And I think I mentioned to you guys earlier, I read an article earlier in the year before I knew we were playing them that I thought was really interesting, just talking about their defense and that nickel position and how much production they’ve gotten out of it the last couple of years.
So trust me, we’ve talked about him all week long. And I think it’s something that our guys are motivated for. But as you know, we haven’t consistently run the ball inside this year the way we would like to. So that was a big emphasis for us this week, this week and really the last month in preparing for this game.
Q. Chris, similar to the first question for Coach Franklin, you have a senior class that’s been with you kind of through the whole time. What have they meant to the development of the program?
CHRIS PETERSEN: It’s been great. I think Coach Franklin said it in terms of culture, cultural drivers. You don’t get anything done unless you got a great locker room.
You can have all kinds of players. I think we’ve all been through that — have a bunch of really good players and get nothing done. So that’s probably the thing we’re most proud of those guys just really kind of getting what we’re all about and really getting it and being all in and from how we practice to how we do everything.
And when you have a new crew come in, there’s a lot of ways to be successful. And sometimes it’s really hard for young guys to figure that out — why are we doing things this way when we were having some pretty good success the other way.
For those guys to figure that out and make the switch and grow through that, it’s hard. It’s hard for anybody, let alone young kids that were recruited under a different philosophy. We wouldn’t be here without those guys.
Q. Coach Petersen, it’s been more than 10 years since the Ian Johnson play at the Fiesta Bowl. You mentioned your current players may not care a whole lot about that, but that play, that game, that win has such great history here and in college football. Is that play brought up to you a lot? What do you see when you see it on replay? And in that game, what did that mean to your career?
CHRIS PETERSEN: It’s interesting, after the game went down, we really tried to spend a lot of time moving on from it because that’s all anybody wanted to talk about.
And we really wanted to move our team forward and not live in the past. And so for probably three or four years people bring it up and we just actually like it didn’t happen, didn’t hear the question, move on.
I don’t get it quite as much. I think you look back in your career at certain games and really appreciate things that have happened. But I’ve said this before: Everybody likes to talk about that first Fiesta Bowl. I was maybe more proud of our second Fiesta Bowl win against TCU that those are two really good teams and TCU was really, really good. And for us to win that game I was equally if not more proud of our team but nobody spoke about it as much because there wasn’t wedding proposals and all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But they were both really awesome times to be at this site and this game.
Q. Coach Franklin, this is kind of a similar question to that. What do you want your guys to know about the ’87 Fiesta Bowl? I know you talk about balancing history and today. But that, like the Fiesta Bowl with Boise State, is a real iconic moment in Penn State history. What do you want these guys to know about that moment in their history?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, at Penn State, we have a program and a university and a community that really embraces our history and traditions.
Coach Pete, we did a throwback alternate uniform this year. And we put a number on the helmet and we put a stripe on the pants. And our Penn State people were, like, aaaah, like it was like craziness. And people nationally were, like, you didn’t do anything.
So our guys get pounded about the history and the traditions from every angle possible. So we don’t really spend a whole lot of time talking about it. Our guys understand it throughout our facility. They see it. They feel it all the time.
The lettermen are such a big part of our program. We probably had ten lettermen at practice yesterday that some live locally and some flew in from all over the country. The 1987 Fiesta Bowl, our guys weren’t even alive. And these guys, most of them, their memories of football, when football really became significant to them is like eighth and ninth grade.
So I think that’s where the recent success that we’ve been having is really putting Penn State back on the minds of football fans across the country and recruits across the country.
And I think we’re playing an exciting brand of football, which helps as well. So our guys understand and they take a lot of pride in our history and our traditions. But we’re really just focused on this team and the University of Washington and getting prepared to play well on Saturday. And talking about the Fiesta Bowl from back then, it doesn’t have a whole lot of value for what we’re trying to do today.
We respect our history and we embrace the traditions, but we’re really focused on what we can do to play the best we possibly can against a great Washington opponent.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.